A venue well deserving of it’s regal title
I have a dream, and that’s to live in a country cottage tucked away in a picturesque village, close to a cosy pub. This dream looks pretty different to my basement flat tucked away next to Hove station, next to a slightly less cosy pub. But such is life and luckily we are but a short drive to such dream like scenarios, one of which being the idyllic village of Horsted Keynes, 40 minutes north of Brighton and Hove.
The quintessential country pub
Winding through the country lanes, we passed plenty of country cottages and picturesque villages, and the pub that we pulled into was just what I’d imagined, backing neatly onto the village cricket green. Walking into The Crown, we were greeted warmly at the bar and spied their huge Inglenook fireplace (more on that later) before being led to the back of the pub where there is plenty of comfy seating looking out onto the garden.
The Crown Inn has been under new management for less than a year, and is run by Father and Son duo Mark and Simon Stevenson, who also have the Rose and Crown in Cuckfield. Simon heads up the kitchen at the Crown, and has plenty of experience in fine food from his stints in various Brighton kitchens and the popular Jeremy’s at Borde Hill.
Best of British produce
The menu focuses on the best British produce, including plenty of foraged ingredients, such as local mushrooms. Fish is from Chapmans, and meat from Woodhouse – a 4th generation butchers. And don’t forget the ale – there’s always a guest and in our case it was from 360° – a local brewery based in Sheffield Park, under 10 miles away.
A well thought out menu
The menu is concise and reflective of the slightly more autumnal weather that seems to have come with the arrival of August. To start we dig into a light bite of salt and pepper squid, lightly crisp and perfect with my dry white wine (Picpoul de Pinet) and Tom’s Pilsner.
I ordered the cèpe mushroom gnocchi with girolles, wild fennel pesto and nasturtium from the garden to start, a beautiful dish which was packed with earthy umami flavours alongside fresh hints of summer with the wild fennel and nasturtium leaves. A stand out dish that I would certainly return for.
A taste of Thailand
Tom went for the tempura soft shell crab with papaya salad, a dish inspired by Simon’s travels to Thailand. The papaya was tart and contrasted well against the light tempura crisp of the locally caught crab.
I enjoyed the fact that our server knew the menu inside out and was able to personally recommend dishes to us, touches like this make a good pub great, and the service at the Crown rivals many fine dining Brighton establishments – perhaps due to the more laid back atmosphere which allows for lingering at the table a little longer. It was also nice to see the Chefs emerge from the kitchen now and then to greet regular customers – of which I’m sure there are quite a few.
Fine dining, pub style
Main course choices were the chicken ballotine, stuffed with smoked ham hock and served with pearl barley and sweetcorn, with a shaving of truffle to add depth. This dish was well executed and hearty, I could only manage half the plate (probably because I’d been munching on the am-a-zing chips), but Tom gladly polished off the rest and loved every bite.
Tom went for the hake served with lobster tortellini, fennel, spinach and bouillabaisse. What a piece of fish! Chunky, pure white and full of flavour, we both agreed this was the perfect choice to pair with the rich lobster pasta, and the bouillabaisse added a warming burst of flavour that didn’t overpower the simplicity of the beautiful hake fillet.
As we ordered dessert to share (a rich chocolate marquise served with cookie crumble and a cherry sorbet) we learnt about the upcoming ‘Lighting of the Fire’ which will be held at the pub in October, bringing the community together to celebrate the start of autumn and many nights in front of the roaring fire with nip of whiskey or glass of red.
At the heart of the village
Community is key to the success of The Crown, and Simon is keen to ensure that they keep this at the heart of the venue – from always keeping a pie on the menu to please walkers, and of course a brilliant Sunday Roast.
We popped our heads into the kitchen to say goodbye and were sent off with a friendly hug from the team – and if that isn’t a fabulous end to a meal then I’ll eat my (locally foraged) hat.See the listing for The Crown Inn at Horsted Keynes, West Sussex